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Coronavirus: Saskatchewan suspends evictions during state of emergency

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WATCH: Saskatchewan has temporarily suspended non-urgent evictions as people struggle financially amid the COVID-19 pandemic – Mar 26, 2020

The Saskatchewan government is temporarily suspending eviction hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting Thursday, the Office of Residential Tenancies (ORT) will not accept applications for evictions related to missed or late rent or for other non-urgent claims.

Previous eviction orders for non-urgent matters that aren’t related to health and safety concerns will not be enforced. Additionally, all upcoming hearings for non-urgent matters were called off on Thursday.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Saskatchewan limits gatherings to 10 people, moves to limit more businesses

“Under the circumstances, we want to ensure that tenants facing hardship as a result of COVID-19 can remain in their homes and follow all orders and recommendations from the Chief Medical Officer,” said Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan in a statement.

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“An essential part of flattening the curve is staying home and self-isolating. We want to provide peace of mind that those taking the necessary precautions as a result of this unprecedented situation will still have a roof over their head.”

Tenants who can’t pay their rent in the coming weeks will be expected to pay in full once the state of emergency is over.

“I expect that people will take it seriously [and] won’t use this as an opportunity to abuse it,” Morgan said in a teleconference on Thursday.

“Your rent doesn’t go away. Pay part of it; pay all of it; do what you can, keeping in mind that it will accumulate.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan now prohibiting public gatherings greater than 10 people – Mar 25, 2020

It’s unlikely tenants will have to make one large rental payment once the state of emergency is over, he said. Instead, people will be able to pay it off in increments.

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Evictions won’t be allowed for as long as necessary during the pandemic, Morgan said.

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The government said the action is being taken because the province is currently in “an unprecedented state of emergency that may result in unforeseen financial hardship or health consequences from tenants.”

The move will inevitably affect landlords, though Morgan said consultation with them was minimal prior to making the decision to suspend evictions. He pointed to upcoming provincial and federal modifications to employment insurance as something that could help.

The government said it’s concerned that evicted tenants will be unable to self-isolate or physically distance themselves from others, which could increase the risk of transmitting or getting COVID-19.

The ORT said it encourages landlords and tenants to communicate with each other about their individual situations so that they can come to mutually agreeable solutions.

At this time, the ORT will only conduct eviction hearings over the phone for urgent situations where there is a potential risk to health or safety resulting from violence or damaged property.

READ MORE: Leaked SHA document shows worst-case scenario outcome of coronavirus in Saskatchewan

Hearings will also take place in situations where a tenant has been locked out by a landlord or where a landlord has been accused of not providing essential services such as power and water.

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-With files from Anna McMillan

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.